Hurray for the WeekdayWhile weekdays account for five out of the seven days each week that we could be spending time in the mountains, most of us fall into the weekend warrior segment of the climbing population. However, there exists another segment and for whatever reasons these fortunate few can find themselves in the mountains any given day of the week. Whether it is to liberate themselves from the nine-to-five norms or to search for some solitude away from the masses, midweek mountain men and women find a way to put themselves in the high places at the odd times. On this trip at least, we would find ourselves among this minority and try to capture some midweek mountain moments.
The PlanIt was Monday morning when we were chatting about how beautiful it was outside that day and how nice it would be to breathe some fresh mountain air instead of being cooped up inside, staring at our computer screens. Marc enthusiastically agreed and soon the gears were put into motion. We both had obligations that day and the next which made our collective window of opportunity around 24 hours, so we opted for a relatively quick and easy ascent that had been on both of our lists: Aiguille du Tour (3542m). We agreed to meet at the Refuge Albert Premier (2702m) around four o’clock in the morning. It would be my first stay at the hut while Marc would hike up from the village of Le Tour (1462m) around midnight.
Dusk till DawnDeparting from the Charamillon-Balme lift (2140m) in the early evening light, it took me a little over an hour to reach the Refuge Albert Premier. The refuge, also known as Albert 1er, is named after Albert Leopold Clement Marie Meinrad, King of the Belgians from 1909 to 1934 and passionate alpinist that died in a mountaineering accident while climbing alone in the Ardennes region of Belgium. 1er is also used in the classification of French wine to distinguish it as being among the best, but it apparently has nothing to do with alpine huts. The location of the hut makes it an ideal place to stay in preparation for many peaks in the region and because the area offers a wide range of easy ascents at modest altitude, it is also frequented by alpine guides as a training ground and acclimatization zone for their clients preparing for Mont Blanc.
From the moment of my arrival, it became clear that the midweek mountain moments on this trip would be shared with a few others. Most of the hundred some odd people staying at the hut that night had already arrived. After finding a couple of mismatched and undersized slippers to change into, it was time to check in with the guardian to find out about the evening meal and my accommodations. Due to my late arrival and expected early departure, he assigned me to the second serving of dinner and to a bunk in the room with the early risers. The first serving had not started yet and it would be well over an hour before the second round would go, so the sleeping quarters were my next stop. After looking around and finding someone snoring in my bunk, it seemed best to just let sleeping dogs lie, dump my gear somewhere and come back later, at least for the gear.
Dinner was delicious; potatoes au gratin with apple crisp for dessert. The two guides sitting at the end of the table said it was the best dinner they had all week. We chatted for a bit about the route conditions on the Tour, particularly the Table Couloir since this was one of the two route options on our minds. The guides said they had seen people climbing the route a couple weeks ago and they thought it would still go, but the temperature had been quite warm recently and they could not be sure. Based on that info, it seemed best to head for the traverse around the north side and leave the couloir for another day. Later on our descent, we confirmed that this was the best decision when we saw the couloir was melted out. The guides were going up the voie normale around the south side and we would later meet them on our descent.
The night was rather sleepless with all the comings and goings, but being half awake made getting up that much easier. Marc arrived on time and we found each other in the hall. Besides the 1200m of elevation gain being a bit draining, Marc said the only notable thing during his approach was the thunder and lightning in the west. Fortunately, most of the energy from the storm had dissipated by that time and the worst clouds remained far away.
Some SolitudeWe had a quick breakfast and headed out the door. After crossing over snow covered boulders for a few hundred meters, we came upon the rest of the early risers gearing up at the edge of the Tour Glacier. Earlier, we discussed the couloir and agreed the traverse would be best. In a few hundred meters more our chosen route would diverge from the voie normale at the Signal Reilly (2883m) and head to the northeast toward the Col du Midi des Grands (3235m). At this point, we completely left the crowds behind and we would not see another soul again until reaching the summit block a couple hours later.
Departing the Tour Glacier to gain the col was a rather loose and dirty affair. The conditions would have been much better with more snow cover earlier in the season. After a bit of scrambling over brown sugar, we reached the col and took a breather, enjoying the scenery and some solitude. The sun was just beginning to rise over Switzerland and it looked like it would be a very nice day indeed. The next section of our route consisted of a somewhat steep, left-leaning traverse across the north face of the Aiguille du Pissoir (3441m). This led to a gap that allowed access around the east side of the Pissoir and onto the Trient Glacier. From here, we headed south toward the base of the Aiguille du Tour.
From the base of the summit block, we dropped our packs and headed up. We had a few options to gain the summit: follow the south ridge or take either the ledge or the gully to the northeast ridge. The gully was melted out so we headed for the ledge with the idea of taking a closer look at the south ridge once higher up. We spent a few minutes scrambling and then reached the top. After sharing the summit briefly with a guide and his two clients, we had the top to ourselves. The summit views that morning were quite nice. Poking out like islands from the sea of clouds were the Gran Combin and the Aiguilles Dorees. To the south and west we had unimpeded views of the Aiguille d’Argentiere, Aiguille du Chardonnet and Aiguille Verte. We lounged around for a while, enjoying the views with some solitude before deciding to head back down.